Always Love You

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Today’s message. I looked down and this was there, telling me what to do.
Always love you.
Some days it’s difficult. Some days it’s easy. There have been days when it was impossible, and I couldn’t see past the pain, yet I am still here, with more hope and love in my heart than I’ve ever known. That’s because it was more painful to think about giving up. That’s it. I wasn’t willing to let go and managed to find that ray of light to hold on to.
We all have our personal trials and hardships. Some are visible, and some are not. Much of it is placed on us by others, but we need to find a way to rise above that.
We cannot change what we were born into, or what has happened to us at the hands of others. We need to find our value and want to do what we can to forgive those who have wronged us, so we can free ourselves. We can then move on to create change for ourselves, and those who are suffering, those whose struggles we know all too well.
If you can’t see past today, or can’t find a reason to love yourself, please hold on and know that you matter. You are not alone. If you need to, message me and know that you will be heard. Your words, your story, are safe with me.
We need to work together to create genuine connection, to create hope. It starts with seeing and listening to one another. From there, we can lift one another up with love and purpose.
What can you do today to take a step towards this? It can be as simple as getting out of bed and looking out the window. Feeding yourself something nourishing. Taking a walk outside. No one said it was easy, but it’s worth it. You are worth it. ❤️

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Back in the Saddle Again

Today, I find myself writing this, after yet another whirlwind of appointments, upsets, and harsh realities. My cancer has spread. There’s no easy way to say that, so let’s just get to the point. It’s in the lymph nodes in my lungs and between my lungs. I’ve had a ct scan, a pet scan, a lung biopsy, and one MRI. We are doing MRIs of my lower lumbar and hip areas to determine if the original pain that is located in my SI/hip area is also cancerous. There are enlarged lymph nodes, but we don’t know if the bone is affected. No one wants to hear this news, certainly not someone who has already been through treatment and thought it was behind her.

We are wasting no time. On Monday I will get my port and on Thursday I will start chemo again. My oncologist has made it clear that this is serious. My wife and I sat across from him, hoping to hear better news, trying not to cry when it turned out to be worse. He went over everything and a game plan. Upon leaving the room, it was hard to see the staff looking back at me with what I call “cancer face”. It’s that sad face, where people can barely make eye contact, and feel sorry for you. I’ve experienced it before and will experience it again. It just happens, especially when people don’t know what to say.

We received our information for all of the upcoming appointments, walked out to the car, and then proceeded to sit there, crying and hugging each other. We certainly knew it was a possibility that it would come back. We knew it was aggressive and in my bloodstream and could resettle somewhere else. You know the facts, but you feel so good after finishing treatment that you move forward with your life and put it behind you. None of the typical symptoms occurred that would signal something is wrong. I had my checkups, and then something happened that made no sense until it lead to this new cancer diagnosis – pain in the SI/hip area. The pain has been going on for over 6 months now and I attributed it to a car accident I was involved in. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t getting better. The pain happens when I lay down and I have discomfort in the same area and down the left leg the rest of the time. Advil has made it livable, although sleeping has been rough for months now. It’s easy to mistake that for an injury from a car accident.

I’m sharing this because I want people to practice self-care. I want them to be aware of what’s going on with their bodies. Something you keep excusing as nothing, could be something. Now, I don’t want to encourage people to think every pain is cancer. If you have symptoms that are persistent, especially if it gets worse, you should insist on being checked out. I had a chance to have an MRI 6 months ago, but I had to pay upfront for it. I couldn’t do it. If I’d had one then, I would have known what was going on and gotten a 6 month jump on treatment. Hindsight is 20/20, but it does no good to think that way. “If only I hadn’t eaten sugar”, “If only if I’d changed my diet sooner”, “If only I’d said something sooner” – none of this kind of thinking will heal you. It’s self-destructive and I’m putting it behind me.

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Feeling reflective

Now is the time for throwing everything at this. I’m at a crossroad and have to decide if I want to do everything I can to stick around, or if I want to half-ass it and hope for the best. If you’ve followed my journey thus far, I’m pretty sure you know what I’ve decided to do. I am starting back with chemo. I tolerated it well last time and the hope is that it will knock the cancer cells back. We now know it didn’t kill them off entirely last time, so I’m also starting the keto diet now. It’s a big switch from being a vegetarian, but the research I’ve done says it is the way to go. A side benefit of that is that it will knock down my blood sugar, which is awesome for any diabetic. I will be starting back with acupuncture, hypnosis, reiki, and massage. I am already using a combination of essential oils and supplements that will support my body, much like last time, except I’m increasing quantities. I’m going to be using hash oil and edibles to help with my appetite. So many things. It seems overwhelming at times, but trying everything together will leave me with no regrets.

At this point, I am only thinking of knocking this back and staying around. I am thinking about my nieces and nephew and my desire to watch them become fully functioning adults. I am thinking about the good things to come and my desire to be a apart of it. I am thinking about the plans I have with my wife and what I want to create through our artist’s studio and doTERRA business. I am thinking about the plans I have with my friends and wanting to establish our shared dream, Green Mountain Collective. At the end of the day, this project is my legacy. It encompasses my dreams and ideals and also benefits good people and our local community. I am thinking about what I have left to see, build, and experience, and the moments that take my breath away and make me appreciate being alive. I’m ready to keep fighting and you’re welcome to join me on this new, yet familiar journey.

This is Why I March

Yesterday I participated in the Women’s March in Portland, Oregon. They estimate 100,000 people attended and it was an amazing sight to behold. There were people of all genders and ages, everywhere you looked, holding signs, playing drums, chanting, and parading around in impressive costumes, pussyhats in many colors, and rain gear.

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I chose to carry a sign I made that addressed the reality of losing my healthcare through the ACA, aka Obamacare. 18 million people, including myself will lose health coverage in the first year if the ACA is repealed. This includes children, elderly people, and some of the most vulnerable among us. The new movement in our government to eliminate rights and protections from those who are not wealthy goes against what our country was founded on. It certainly doesn’t represent the religious values those same politicians keep saying they represent. Jesus did not turn away those in need. He did not call them moochers and tell them to “get over it”. We are at a crossroads ethically and spiritually.

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This country is a place built on welcoming immigrants, lifting up the oppressed, and offering opportunities to those who are seeking a better life. The most well known quote from the Statue of Liberty sums it up:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Emma Lazarus

Yesterday, around the world, women and those who support them, gathered, marched, and shared a message of hope and unity. Since November 7th, many have felt lost, alone, frustrated, and angry. The message coming from the GOP and especially from the newly elected President has been one of aggression, division, exclusion, lies, oppression, and all under the threat of violence and repercussions for speaking out against the new rule. The people that gathered were strong, proud, determined, and most of all, supportive of one another. They also were happy. Happy to be out expressing all of the frustration and emotions we had been suffocating under since November.

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There were so many signs, saying so many important things – everything from “women’s rights are human rights” to “viva la vulva” to “black lives matter”. There were men carrying signs that said, “It’s time for white men to listen to women”, “feminist”, and, “I’m with her”, the words surrounded by arrows pointing to others around them. Children carried signs they made themselves, one of which said, “I’d make a better President because I care about ALL people.” The feeling in the air was joyous and emotional, and the crowd seemed to be endless.

We were towards the front of the march and when we reached the end, we stopped and stood and watched the crowd walk by for over an hour. As I kept holding up my sign, many people’s eyes met mine and I could feel the moment of recognition of me being a cancer survivor. There is something in the faces of those who see me as a cancer survivor, a softness, an empathetic look in their eyes. It’s emotional, seeing those faces looking back at me, acknowledging me and what I’ve been through. There is a strength to being seen and acknowledged.

A woman approached me and told me that she was in the same situation, that she had received healthcare through the ACA just before being diagnosed with breast cancer. If she hadn’t had coverage, she would have ended up homeless. She gestured towards the city behind us, where so many are homeless, as she made that statement. She took my hand and we looked into each others eyes and nodded, “But we are still here and we are okay”, I said and I felt myself getting teary eyed. “May I hug you? I feel like I need to hug you.”, I asked. We hugged one another and then she was off, to chant and join back into the march.

 

A number of people in the crowd stopped and hugged me. Some gave me a hi-five. Others looked directly at me and raised their fist in the air in solidarity as they marched by. Some women stopped long enough to take my hand and tell me they too were cancer survivors. There was such connection there, and I will never be able to describe the magnitude of emotions I felt. Another woman stopped and hugged me tightly, as if she were my mom and she hadn’t seen me in a while. There was such unconditional and genuine caring involved in this gesture that I could feel the tears starting to well up in my eyes. She let go of me and we nodded and smiled at each other. In that moment, a person stopped to ask if they could take a photo of me with my sign. I turned and smiled, with tears in my eyes. Little did they know what they actually captured in that moment.

So, back to the title of this blog, why do I march? I march because girls are learning younger and younger what it is like to be treated as sexual objects by our society, while being told repeatedly that their looks determine their worth and their future. Younger and younger, they are becoming the victims of sexual predators and sex trafficking. Because society tends to blame the victims who report sexual assault of any kind and say they did something to deserve it. Because white males are serving little or no time for heinous crimes against girls and women. Because athletes are seen as more valuable than the girls they take advantage of at parties.  Because even with video evidence and witnesses, judges are giving minimal sentences and saying “boys will be boys”.

I march because I have two high school aged nieces and when I look at Donald Trump, I see a person who was going to court on child rape charges, until his followers used threats of violence to silence the victim. I see a person who has sexually assaulted more women than I can count, and then bad mouthed them all and forced them to back down through intimidation or payoffs. I see a person who has bragged about getting away with these activities and then called the women liars and whores. I see a person who has used fraud as a way of doing business, costing many small businesses to go under. I see a person who has used religion and lies to further a dark agenda against those who are in need and the most vulnerable within our society. I see someone so insecure that he is willing to throw away segments of the population to gain more money and power over his enemies. Someone who uses that power to crush anyone who questions his actions. I cannot stand idly by when this is considered the “new normal”.

 

I march for the oppressed, for those without a voice. I will not watch as a government majority unites against the people, against women, and against minorities. I am speaking up on my own behalf and for those who need and deserve respect. We all deserve to be treated equally. The open racism and bigotry that has come with the election and now the inauguration is frightening. The reemergence of swastikas, the normalization of Nazi worship and the KKK, and the rise of anti-lgtbq and anti-women movements is alarming, to say the least. We need to raise our voices against this new dark direction.

Back to talking about the ACA. We all deserve healthcare. The loss of dignity that comes from not being able to afford healthcare in the wealthiest country in the world is something no one should have to endure. Had I been diagnosed earlier, which I couldn’t be, because I could not afford insurance because of a pre-existing condition, I would not have had to go through chemo. Because getting diagnosed was delayed for years, my cancer spread. Had I gone another year without care, I would have been in “end of life” care with no options. This is the reality of not having access to preventative care.

People seem to think you can just show up at the ER or a clinic somewhere and get the testing and care you need. Nope. You cannot walk into the ER and say, “something is wrong and I think I may have cancer or something else horribly wrong with me.” They will send you home. That is the reality people like me lived with before the ACA and what we are facing once again. There are people who will die without continual treatment for cancer, diabetes, and so on, and this includes children and people of all backgrounds.

I will speak up for them and I will march every chance I get, because it’s what needs to be done. I am still alive and I have a voice. I will stand up for future generations of girls and minorities, who deserve better than what our society offers them today. We need to fight the darkness and stand up for what’s right. I believe in love and I want to make this a better world for future generations. Hope can be restored, if we look for it and work towards it. Yesterday was a good start. Compassion and empathy are the true measure of a person’s character and we are up against it right now. We are being tested. United we can answer the call and change the path we are on. I truly do believe this. Join me?

A Day of Reflection (You Only Turn 48 Once)

Today is my birthday. The birthday wishes started last night via text and social media. I woke up to 68 birthday wishes on Facebook, which has now jumped to 127+. Seeing all of the well wishes and comments, and feeling the love, it’s priceless. It is beautiful, uplifting, and makes me realize how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful people in my life who want to reach out to me today. This day also reminds me that my doctor told me that if I hadn’t been diagnosed and rushed into treatment, I probably would not have survived another year. Above all things today, I am extremely grateful.

Last week I found myself trying to answer the question, “What are you doing for your birthday?” I looked at my calendar and realized there was nothing planned. It was a bit odd, to not have anything to do, after the crazy cancer fundraiser/birthday party that was planned last year. In contrast, today has been a quiet and uneventful day, which has made me reflect on where I was last year and how much things have changed.

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My 2014 birthday party.

I look back at the photographs of me, bald and smiling, being embraced and held up by my friends, family, and community. It makes me realize how fortunate I am, both for the people I am surrounded by, but also to be here today, feeling relatively healthy. I am asked often by people, when the subject of my treatment last year comes up, “Are you in remission?” or “How are things?” (which usually leads to people asking if I’m done with treatment). I welcome these questions and know that it simply means people want to know how my health is. I look at their faces and see how awkward it is for them to ask me about it. I see the worry, the concern. I tell them, as I’m now telling you, my doctor says my type of cancer, aggressive endometrial cancer that had traveled out of the uterus to the lymph nodes, will usually come back within 2-3 years if chemo didn’t zap all of the remaining cells. If I make it past the 3 year mark, it probably won’t return. I finished chemo in September of last year. I’m looking forward to celebrating my one year anniversary and every time I see my oncologist for my 3 month checkups, he says time passing without any changes is what we want.

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2014 birthday love from friends and family.

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Making a wish and blowing out the candles.

I should tell you that I am rare, both for being diagnosed with endometrial cancer so young and for not having any blood markers. That means they cannot draw blood to check to see if the cancer has returned. Instead, I am the gauge. It scared me a bit when my doctor told me that. If I start to feel “off”, I am supposed to report it immediately, so a CAT scan can be performed to see what’s going on inside. We are trying to avoid exposing me to more radiation, unless necessary, so we are erring on the side of caution. To be honest, I really don’t think about this on a daily basis. I don’t want to. If I did, it would affect my life and my peace of mind. Instead, I choose to wake up and be grateful. I look for what makes me happy and I focus on that instead. Focusing on the possible return of a cancer diagnosis seems like it would be exactly what cancer cells would want. I won’t give it to them.

Simplicity is something I appreciate these days. For my birthday my wife asked what I wanted for brunch (blueberry pancakes, veggie sausage, and fresh peaches). We took the dogs for a little ride in our new/used car that has made my life much less stressful. I went and got a haircut. For dinner we shared my freebie birthday veggie burger from Red Robin and a vanilla milkshake and then went to a place we hadn’t been in a while and enjoyed a soak and sauna under the stars. While I was there, sitting in silence and staring at the big dipper, I tried to make a list of things I’m grateful for in my head. I came to the conclusion that it would take an entire blog post to say everything I would want to say and even then, I’d miss something and want to revise it later. Instead, I will just say that I am grateful for everything around me that makes up my life. You can’t have the good without the bad or the light without the dark. To me, the point of waking up every morning is to keep breathing, trying, learning, and moving forward.

Today I am 48 years old. I am married to someone who would do most anything to make my life better or easier. We know what unconditional love is and appreciate one another. We know what it is to endure a life-threatening situation together while keeping each other smiling and sane. I run two businesses doing what I love – creating art and helping people with health and nutritional support. Both things make others (and myself) happy and I get to work with people I genuinely like. I “beat cancer”.  I am surrounded by love and compassion. People in my life are constantly rooting for me and that feels pretty darned good. I feel comfortable in my skin for the first time in my life and I like who I am. It’s taken me most of my life to get here and I am not finished. We are all a work in progress. I believe we have to do the work to accept ourselves, to find our purpose, and then to give of ourselves with kindness and gratitude. The rest will come.

I will never take for granted that I am still here, alive and kicking. I’m thinking today of two beloved friends we lost to cancer. Both of these people contributed so much to our community and their presence is greatly missed. It’s hard to process it all. I really wish we could be celebrating together today. Cancer is a jerk. I am painfully aware that every day is a gift. I am thankful that they graced this world with their presence and left a mark on so many hearts, including mine. Happy Birthday indeed. ❤

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Birthday self-portrait, 2015

Being a Life Line to a Cancer Patient

It is very humbling when others dealing with their own cancer struggles reach out to me. Being allowed into an individual’s personal space when I have never met them before is an honor and also is daunting. I don’t have answers for everything, not even close. I can only do my best to listen, empathize, do some research via Google or tell them what worked for me and hope for the best. There is no “one size fits all” answer. I do get personally invested to an extent, because I care. I hate to see people suffer and I hate to see those who love the person with cancer have to sit by the sidelines and hope they will beat it. It’s brutal for all involved. This is why I’ve tried to deal with my cancer by keeping my sense of humor and by being very open about it with those around me. That is what has worked for me, but I definitely am not the average patient, just ask my doctor. Thank goodness he “got” me and the way I, my friends, and my wife handled my time in treatment.

For someone who has never had any experience with cancer, it can be really rough when someone close to them says, “I have cancer” or “my cancer has come back”. We panic, say how unfair it is, cry, get angry, and then once it all has sunk in, wonder what can be done to help that person. I will tell you, having been the person on the receiving end of that news by the doctor, we experience the same emotions magnified by 100. I found myself wondering how it really could be as bad as they were saying it was. Surely I would have had more symptoms? Perhaps it isn’t as serious as they’re saying it is? And then I went through so many scenarios in my brain about what was about to happen to try to save my life, it was nerve wracking. Major surgery? Menopause? Five months of chemo and then radiation? What is going to happen to me? What if I don’t survive surgery? Believe me, the newly diagnosed cancer patient is thinking about everything and wanting to be thinking about nothing all at the same time.

They are facing a daunting task and something they will have to endure alone, even with the best support system possible around them. Physically, you can’t take away the side-effects and trauma the patient is going through, but you can do everything possible to make sure they have no other worries on their plate. Make sure they know you are a phone call or text away and will drive them to treatment, hold their hand, talk with their doctor, and so on, if that is what you both want. Don’t ever force anything, but listen to them. If they say they don’t want you to bother, that isn’t necessarily a no. Don’t push your way in, but don’t give up on them either.

Help set up a meals schedule for their family, if and only if they want you to. Please don’t take it personally if they cannot and will not eat food you make for them. Listen to them. I went through a time when all I wanted was pretzel sticks, fresh fruit, or a smoothie (my wife made one for me every day). I could not eat the beautiful meals she would prepare and I know it hurt her feelings in the beginning, but we then worked out a system where she would ask me before preparing anything. She would give me options and ask what I thought I could eat. We had a time towards the end of treatment when she knew I could eat, but only if I had a few bites from a marijuana cookie. That would stimulate my appetite enough for me to want to eat a small serving. Once we were on the same page, neither of us got frustrated with each other over food again. You also need to keep in mind that something that sounds good one day may seem unappetizing the next. There may be a metallic taste in their mouth that makes consuming most anything difficult. The drugs received in chemo can vary from patient to patient, depending on their cancer, so don’t expect text book side effects or results from treatment.

Sometimes people ask me what to say to people with cancer. I struggle with it because everyone handles it differently. Just make it clear that you are there for them, in whatever form they need you to take. I think the most important thing you can do is learn what NOT to say. Don’t tell them stories about people you know who had cancer unless they beat it and are doing well. Don’t minimize their experience, but don’t act like they’re dying, unless they really are. Try really hard to not make the “aw, you’re a sick person and I feel sorry for you” face at them (that was the worst for me). Don’t tell them you know how they feel, because you don’t. Don’t make grand gestures and then get upset if they don’t fall over themselves to thank you endlessly or aren’t happy about it. Sometimes people don’t know how they will feel in the day to day and showing up at their doorstep with a gift basket might be welcome one day and annoy them the next. If they say they want to be left alone, respect that. It’s okay to send a text or email if you haven’t heard from them to let them know you are thinking about them, or perhaps a quote or meme or cute puppy video you saw on Facebook.

Don’t suffocate them, just perform a gentle acts of kindness and then back away. If they want to talk or see you, they will let you know. Some people cannot ask for help or don’t want to be a bother. I was the later, but also was very happy to let those who wanted to participate in the process into my inner circle, so to speak. It’s my experience that most cancer patients don’t want chemo buddies each week or only want one or two people to experience that with them. Some don’t at all – they want to be alone during that process. Just respect their boundaries. It isn’t easy, especially if the patient doesn’t have a good prognosis. There can be panic and the possibility of regrets. We are all human.

Cancer made me more bold and I see that in others who are currently in treatment. I met others like that when I was still having chemo. For some of us, we want to communicate, let the world in and use that for strength. It was energizing for me to have social media to feel like I wasn’t alone, even when I was flat on the sofa feeling nauseous or waiting to talk with my doctor. I also saw the same people every week come in to get chemo alone with a book and a blanket, or with their spouse by their side. They did not dress up in costumes or make bucket lists or want attention of any kind. We all handle facing our mortality differently. The most important thing I can say I’ve learned is to listen to others. Through their words and their actions, they will tell you what they need or want from you.

Lastly, be sure to ask the loved ones of the patient how they are doing and make sure they have support. I actually wasn’t concerned about my well-being, but wanted to make sure my close friends checked in with my wife. I knew she would be tending to my needs constantly and I wanted her to feel supported and to have back up. It was so nice for me to know that she had a support system and it wasn’t just people wanting to know how I was doing. It’s much easier for a patient to focus on recovery if they know those close to them are okay and not stretched too thin. Enough for now. I’m sure I will have feedback about this from others and I will write more about this subject later. ❤

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A big chunk of my support system. This is us after I finished treatment. So much love!

Embracing Full Nudity and the Art of Chelsea Rose

I should have posted sooner about the day we collaborated with our friend and artist, Chelsea Rose. I got so caught up in my radiation treatments and everything else and let it slip by. Today I want to re-visit it and share the experience with you. Chelsea is a painter and has been working on her “Goddess” series, which involves her painting on fully nude models and then photographing them, either in nature or in a studio setting. I had been tempted to volunteer to model for her for a while, but once again, let my fear of my body image get in the way. It’s been there for a lifetime and yes, I’m working on it, but these things take time.

Okay, I’m fat. I’ve always been chubby or plump or had baby fat or whatever else you want to call it. I’ve never been skinny. I’ve always had a belly and was always made to feel ashamed of it. When I look back at myself now, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Because I was made to feel bad about it, I hid and ate more and got bigger. I had a long-term relationship with someone where eating was how we bonded. That and watching tv. I ended up weighing over 300 pounds and felt horrible about myself. In my late 30’s I started realizing I had to change things. I stopped eating fast food, stopped drinking any kind of soda, and started doing more exercise. It was a start.

Because I had been on diets from childhood, I decided I would never again be “on a diet”. It was a lifestyle change and I was going to take things slowly. Weight did start to come off gradually. That was around 2006 and now my total weight loss is around 74 pounds. I did lose 13 pounds after my hysterectomy surgery and during chemo, but everything else came of gradually and I’ve easily kept it off. I know we are all looking for the quick fix, but it doesn’t work and doesn’t last unless you are willing to do the work on yourself and figure out why you are using food as a way of comforting yourself, instead of to feed your body. I was that person. I still am, but now I make sure I get enough nutrition to be as healthy as I can. I am in no way eating the way I wish I was, which would be lots of fresh veggies and plant-based protein. I feel amazing when I can eat that way, but I admit that I am lazy and the time it takes to prepare meals often gets in the way. I do my best and that is all we can ask of ourselves.

Moving on – I have spent a lot of time working on my body image issues. Meeting Sam was a big deal for me because she doesn’t have body issues and hangups like mine. Our relationship has been the key to me moving to the next level in facing my fears, getting out there to enjoy life, and learning to love myself more and more. She loves all of me. She passes no judgements and has never once made me feel awkward or like I “just need to do… and she will love me more.” It truly is an unconditional love. I know how rare that is and I am grateful for it every day. It has enabled me to do things I never would have done before and to face things from a more confident place of strength and happiness. I’m not “cured” and certainly am still self-conscious about my body, but, I am doing a better job of living my life and if I died tomorrow, my regrets would be few.

It is a BIG deal for me to place my trust in someone to 1. See me fully naked while they paint my body 2. Allow that person full control of the photographs that would be taken of my fully naked body and 3. Be okay with whatever she chooses to do with those images in the future. Once I was diagnosed with cancer and survived surgery, I decided it was time to ask Chelsea if she wanted a “bald, cancer lady” for a model. She immediately responded and our mutual excitement grew. Sam offered to be a part of the photo shoot, which was wonderful because Chelsea hadn’t worked with a couple yet. I was excited and nervous as we planned the weekend and location where we would spend the day doing this.

Chelsea often spends 3-4 hours painting just one person, in fine detail. You can see her work at www.chelsearosearts.com. We were dealing with two people and entering fall, so the sun was setting earlier. It was going to be a race against time. We picked Chelsea up and headed to the beach location we had decided on. She set up and we took off our clothes and she began painting – first Sam’s face and then mine and back and forth until we were both fully covered. It took around 4 hours to complete. Because of the time constraints, she used more bold lines and fewer details, but I think the emotion and feeling we wanted to capture is just as significant. We are a couple brought closer together through cancer and this was a great way to honor that. Chelsea did a great job with the photographs and having us relate to one another. Seeing the finished images blew my mind. She converts them to black and white and the effect is striking to say the least.

Yes, I am naked and I am learning to see these images in a way that helps me to look  past my shape and the fact that I am aging and sagging. I am trying to embrace the fact that I have earned every wrinkle, stretch mark, and imperfection and that I have survived everything that life has thrown at me, so far. I can now joke about the fact that I have lost most of my weight in the lower part of my body, leaving me with what I call an “old man butt”. My hips and butt have disappeared, yet my stomach has lost nothing. Having naturally large breasts means they will sag. I am who I am and this is the package that it comes in. Learning to accept that in a society that shames everything about everyone until we have little girls talking about diets and criticizing their bodies, is hard. I am so much further down that path than I ever was before and that is something to celebrate. I am also honoring myself as a survivor and this body that keeps on ticking. I’ve been told I am a warrior. I don’t know about that, but looking at myself covered in Chelsea’s paint sure makes that seem more real to me. Thank you again Chelsea, for celebrating us in this way. It is a day I will never forget. ❤

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Me, in the beginning.

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Sam, just getting started.

Sam, almost finished.

Sam, almost finished.

Me, almost finished.

Me, almost finished.

I took this image of Sam as Chelsea was finishing painting on me.

I took this image of Sam as Chelsea was finishing painting on me.

In the woods.

In the woods.

I can't wait to see this in black and white and to hang it on the wall at home.

I can’t wait to see this in black and white and to hang it on the wall at home.

My view of Sam during the log photo. <3

My view of Sam during the log photo. ❤

Relaxing together.

Relaxing together.

Finished black & white images, selected by Chelsea.

Finished black & white image, selected by Chelsea.

Another selection by Chelsea.

Another selection by Chelsea.

My favorite of the Chelsea selections. This sums us up pretty well.

My favorite of the Chelsea selections. This sums us up pretty well.

After we got home, Sam and I orchestrated this photograph in her chicken coop.

After we got home, Sam and I orchestrated this photograph in her chicken coop. An awesome collaboration.

All images copyright – Chelsea Rose Arts or Kelly Keigwin, 2014. These cannot be re-used for any reason without the written consent of the artists and models.

Kicking My Port to the Curb

One of the things I’ve looked forward to is having my port removed. It’s something that is necessary and I appreciated the ease it gave when getting chemo and such. For those who don’t know, a port is inserted into your chest and has tubing that runs up into a vein in your neck. Instead of getting an i.v. every week, they would simply access the port, which means they would puncture it with a needle with tubing attached, and I would be ready to go. I was told that it also meant the medication went directly into my heart, versus having to have it work it’s way through my bloodstream, which is a good thing.

The drawback is that you know it is there, especially in the beginning. I really noticed it in my neck and it creeped me out. The part in my chest just felt like a bruise most of the time because it was directly under the skin. I would definitely feel it when I woke up in the morning, after I had slept on that side. It wasn’t awful and like I said, I appreciated not having to have an i.v. each week. It also helps keep your veins in good shape from not being repeatedly punctured. That said, it is constantly there, reminding you that you have cancer and a foreign object in your body.

I started having neck pain issues, just after I completed radiation treatments. I had a conversation with my massage therapist and chiropractor and the theory came up that perhaps my port was causing the left side of my neck to pull out of whack because of the port on the right side. Because I had been taking steroids every week during chemo, it would have masked any pain I was having, but now the steroids had worn off. It made sense and I decided to try removing the port to see if it made a difference. I called my oncologist’s office to see if we could discuss it and ended up being called back by someone I didn’t know in the office. She started telling me that they can’t just put it back in and that with my stage 3c status my chances of re-occurrence (aka my cancer returning) are higher. It freaked me out. I am a realist and an optimist and am aware of the possibility of my cancer coming back. I had been feeling so good after radiation and didn’t expect to be met with that response from my doctor’s office. I just wanted to talk about my port and ended up spiraling into a depression.

Suddenly, I felt tied to my port, as a symbol that cancer was lurking in my body and waiting to come back to kill me. I know that is always a possibility, but I really wanted to think that I was going to enjoy a period of decent health and happiness, at least for a while. A few days later I received a call for an appointment to come in to have my port flushed. I was a bit surprised. Once a month a port has to be flushed with saline to keep it from getting backed up. I knew I either had to have my port removed or flushed because it had been just over a month since I finished treatment. I put the appointment on my calendar and figured I was not going to get to see my doctor and was just going to have a maintenance appointment. I kept hoping somehow I would get to see my doctor and maybe convince him to remove the port.

Today I went in and was told they were removing my port. I was excited and grossed out at the same time. Sam had come with me, just in case it went that way, so she could document it. They check you into the hospital when they install the port. When they remove it, they do it in office. My doctor came in and we hugged and smiled and spoke about everything. I was prepped and shot up with lidocaine to numb the spot. He made an incision over the previous one and loosened the port and popped it out.  It’s amazing that the vein will close itself off and not bleed after the tubing is removed. The human body is a crazy thing. He then sewed me up and we spent some more time chatting about my trip I want to take to the South (he is from Memphis).  I teased him and said I might get more chest tattoos just to make his job harder if he has to re-install the port. He laughed because he had told me avoiding tattooed areas sometimes makes him have to be more creative with placement in order to avoid cutting into them. There’s something you don’t think about every day – tattoos and surgery scars.

My doctor is a great guy and made me feel much better about everything. We spoke about the realities of my cancer being an aggressive variety and the possibility of it returning, or not at all. Chemo actually works better on aggressive cancer cells than on slow-growing ones, because they are rapidly mutating, which allows the drugs to get inside and kill them. There is a possibility that I will never need treatment again. There also is a possibility it might come back in 1-2 years.  I just wanted facts and he was great about that. He  reassured me that it wasn’t a big deal to put the port back in, if I should ever need it again. All of that stress and sadness for nothing. When they asked if I was wanting to keep my port, I said yes and he said, “Of course she does. If you asked me about any other patient, I’d say no, but you, I knew you’d want to keep it”. I said something about how on my first meeting with him I asked if I could keep my lady parts after my hysterectomy, which established where I was coming from. We laughed.

I’ll be going back for my check-up in January and in the meantime, I will focus on being healthy, doing yoga, hitting the gym, and hopefully, feeling better in every sense of the word. Cancer may come back in the next couple of years, or maybe never, but for now, I’m running the show and I refuse to keep feeding the depression spiral. Onward and upward.

Disclaimer – these are photographs from a minor surgical procedure. Be forewarned.

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The tray is prepped and ready to go.

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Getting my gown on.

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One last look at my port, before it comes out.

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Prepping the area with Betadine.

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Injecting the area with Lidocaine.

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Re-opening the original incision.

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Loosening the port.

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It starts to come out.

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Almost finished.

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Boom! It’s out. My doctor is awesome.

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A look at the tray as they irrigate the wound.

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Sewing it up.

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Almost done.

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Finished.

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After.

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Good stuff.

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A photo of us from the early days of treatment, displayed in the main office area. ❤

All images copyright – Sam MacKenzie, 2014. None of these images may be used or reproduced without written consent of the artist and subject.

That Time I Met Lucinda Williams

I love and admire many female musicians. They are varied and work in different genres – rock, folk, country, pop, and even a few rap artists. This summer I was fortunate enough to see a number of them as part of my “bucket list” – Tori Amos, The Indigo Girls, Joan Baez, Amy Ray, Melissa Etheridge, and Lucinda Williams. This past week, Lucinda Williams made an in-store appearance at Music Millennium in Portland, OR and I was fortunate enough to get to see her again.

They had announced on the radio that there were 200 guaranteed tickets available, if you came in and bought Lucinda’s new cd or album. We stopped by and bought the cd and I received my ticket for the appearance. The day of the event, I had a radiation session and by the time I arrived at MM I was feeling a little bit off and not up to standing in line outside. I asked the guys at the counter if they had somewhere I could sit down and they graciously offered me the barber’s chair in the shop to hang out in. One of the employees told me his wife is currently battling cancer and he completely understood. After I sat in the chair, another gentleman stopped by to tell me they had arranged for me to have a chair upstairs for Lucinda’s performance. I hadn’t been there before for an event, so I wasn’t sure where that was, but I thanked him.

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My ticket and cd.

Just as they started letting people into the store, I was led up the stairs and shown my spot for the evening – a chair diagonally across from where Lucinda would be performing. I was in awe and thanked them again. “I think it’s safe to say you’ll have the best seat of the night”, the gentleman told me. I couldn’t really argue. Everyone else was down on the lower level, looking up at the performance area. There were a few photographers and other folks upstairs near me, but I had an unobstructed view. Another employee stopped by and told me he needed to make Lucinda’s tea. I looked next to me and there was a teapot, mug, and selection of teas. Pretty darned cool, right? I heard cheering and then looked down to see Lucinda walking up the stairs. She took her place, with her guitar, and began to play.

Lu's tea.

Lu’s tea.

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The view from my seat.

She played new songs, older songs, covers, and at one point I found myself crying, just a little bit. She was playing “Joy”, a song that usually gets me riled up, but one that I have connected to on a deeper level during treatment.

The sound was awesome and I couldn’t believe how everything had worked out. I was so grateful to be there, in that moment. I knew there was a possibility that I would be able to meet her after the show, but I knew I would start crying and look like a babbling idiot. Next to me were pieces of scratch paper and a pen. I decided to write a note for her, just in case I did get to meet her. I told her that her music had helped me to get through chemo and thanked her. I said a few other things and then added some drawings, one of a unicorn in a boat, gazing at the moon, and one of a little bird chirping. I folded up the piece of paper and placed it on my copy of her cd. I went back to enjoying the music and then the show was over.

The set list.

The set list.

Lucinda's guitar and such.

Lucinda’s guitar and such.

They announced that Lucinda would come down for a meet and greet and I realized that I would be at the end of the line. There was no hurry. She moved past me and downstairs, so I walked over to where her guitar and things were in order to take a photograph. I eventually made it downstairs and got into line. The employees continued to be very sweet and kind and checked to make sure I was doing okay. The line moved very slowly and I’m not even sure how long it took to get up to the front – at least an hour.

I handed my cell phone to the fella who was taking photos for people and when I got up to the counter Lucinda smiled at me. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I handed her the note and told her I couldn’t say what I needed to say or I would start crying. She asked if she could read the  note and I said yes. She read it and looked at me with that look, you know the one, and I got teary-eyed. She said something to me about if I cried, then she would cry and she said, “You’re beating it though, right?” I replied, “Yes, these are happy tears”. She then came around the counter to hug me. It wasn’t one of those fake hugs, it was a genuine, “I care” hugs that I often get from my friends. It was pretty awesome. We then took a few more photos together and then she signed my cd. There were a few people still in line behind me, so I told her I would get a mug for her out of my car.

Our first moment meeting one another.

Our first moment meeting one another.

Lu, reading my note.

Lu, reading my note.

The hug. <3

The hug. ❤

All smiles.

All smiles.

I went out to my car and chose three mugs for her to choose from. When I got back into the store, I placed them on the counter and she chose the green monster with the singing bluebird. Somehow, I knew that would be the one she would want. I said goodbye and thanked her and the employees one more time. The fella who had told me about his wife shook my hand and we wished each other the best with everything. It was an evening of kindness, amazing music, and compassion – the name of one of Lucinda’s new songs that I love. If you get a chance, check out her new cd/album. It’s a wonderful collection. I can’t wait until she comes back to Portland in February. ❤

She chose the mug in the middle. I kinda knew that was the one.

She chose the mug in the middle. I kinda knew that was the one.